It's The Soul, Baby!

Feet held steadily apart, Brian Waters practices a little-known yoga stance called I'm Gonna Shove This Gee-tar in Your Face: The Flash Express
James Bunoan

You meet a guy like Brian Waters, you let him introduce himself--out of respect, out of deference, out of the hope he'll cadge you a free drink. And when you write about a guy like Brian Waters and his band the Flash Express, you let them introduce themselves, too, just like they do onstage--with guitar lines as thick and sinuous as just-fed pythons and Waters roaring out their theme song. This is how it goes:

"Lance Porter on the drums! Tommy Branch on the bass! And I'm gonna play my gee-tar and shove this microphone right in your face!"

Usually, he does. Sometimes his guitar breaks, and he concentrates solely on mic shoving. Sometimes his mic breaks, and he sings right into the guitar pickups. Sometimes--lots of times--he'll notice people he knows in the crowd and draw out the breaks for them: "Jorge from the Red Onions! You looking good tonight! I work for you!" Porter and Branch never ever miss a beat (more reputable ears than mine fete them as the best rhythm section in L.A.), and the whole thing supercollides into the music God and the law prevented Iggy Pop and James Brown from Frankensteining together. Ladies and Germs fans, we give you the Flash Express with Funhouse! Live at the Apollo!

"That's pretty much it," says Waters, drinking Black Label whiskey at the faded Hollywood dive bar the Frolic Room. (Mars from up-and-coming avant-garage band the Fuse! calls him Dirty Waters, usually pretty loudly, which seems appropriate.) "This is my vision, and it's perfect."

A little egoistic, yeah. But who wants a rock hero to be humble? Waters's kick-out-the-jams personality radiates dangerous levels of energy like a busted Russian sub. The guy sweats out hustle: The Flash Express have two albums on tape somewhere that probably aren't coming out, but they got a new one they just released that they recorded for zero dollars down! He shakes your hand as persuasively as anybody who ever gave Robert Johnson a guitar lesson. (Actually, Waters does give guitar lessons--if you dare). And just like anybody who's ever really sung the blues, the Flash are too smart to rely on luck. Instead, they've mastered the art of manipulating coincidence.

Cody Chesnutt--you know, "Looks Good in Leather"--once grabbed Waters as he walked down the street and started singing to him; the two have been friends ever since. "I was like, 'I gotta hang out with you forever!'" Waters says. Rudy Ray Moore--you know, Dolemite--waited in his black Cadillac (or possibly his black Lincoln Town Car) until the Flash Express were almost finished playing, and then he glided through the crowd for an improvised grand finale onstage. (Later, he'd display questionable bathroom manners in their practice space--but that's not as uplifting a story.) And Andre Williams--you know, "Shake a Tail Feather"--got the Flash Express their start, taking them on tour as his backing band after they'd played only one or two L.A. shows. Jesus, how do they make that shit happen?

"It's the soul, baby!" beams Waters. "The soul!"

And what he says seems so biblically true, not just because I'm now two waffles and a breast into dinner at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, where our interview has moved from the Frolic Room, or because Waters has his shirt unbuttoned just enough to show off his gold chain--though, yes, that certainly adds to the effect. It's because these guys have ground up so much bullshit between them: They worked it (ask Waters about his career as a gay phone-sex operator--it did wonders for his voice!), talked it, slept in it, slept with it, played it (ask Porter about his bewigged metal-for-cash career or his stint with the Dixie Chicks--in France!), seasoned it with a little hot sauce, ate it for dinner, and woke up still tasting it stuck to their gums, realizing that they'd broken through to the mythical Other Side. Dues paid, lessons learned, ladies lost forever.

For everything they've been through, they should be old and wrinkled and on a hazy porch somewhere, reminiscing about their career--but instead, they're just starting. "We're not art-school kids," Waters says. "We never went to college--I dunno about these guys, but I dropped out of high school. The only thing that ever stuck with me is music, and everyone in the band is the same way."

Now we're back at the Frolic Room for dessert, still an hour or two before the early-evening show-biz rush. The bartender is intrigued. He's been watching the Flash, a couple of dudes drinking good whiskey and wearing a little bit of leather (the rocker kind, not the metalhead or BDSM kind--as far as we know).

"You a band?" he finally asks.

Waters nods.

"Rock 'n' roll?"

Waters smiles broadly, sliding a tip across the bar. "Strictly, son."

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